Eduardo Rodriguez was feeling it. After striking out Houston star Carlos Correa to wrap up his excellent ALCS outing, he walked off the mound tapping his wrist, a mocking reference to the Astro star’s “it’s my time” celebration.
Nobody knew it then, but Rodriguez’s time with the Red Sox was just about up.
That Game 3 appearance turned out to be Rodriguez’s final outing in a Red Sox uniform, as the veteran left-hander is reportedly heading to the Detroit Tigers on a five-year deal worth up to $80 million. The move closes the book on Rodriguez’s six-year rollercoaster-like tenure with the Red Sox, which was largely a success.
While Rodriguez wasn’t quite a homegrown talent, he’s spent his entire big league career in Boston and has been a key part of the rotation since his rookie year in 2015. Acquired at the 2014 trade deadline from the Baltimore Orioles as a 21-year-old prospect in exchange for relief pitcher Andrew Miller, Rodriguez has gone 64-39 with a 4.16 ERA and 892 strikeouts over 856.2 innings, including a sixth-place finish in the 2019 Cy Young voting after going 19-6 with a career-best 3.81 ERA in 203.1 innings.
Not a bad return considering that Miller only wound up pitching 20 innings for Baltimore.
For a time it looked like Rodriguez might blossom into a bona fide ace, but things haven’t gone as smoothly recently. Rodriguez missed the entire 2020 season due to complications from COVID-19 and was inconsistent in his return this season. Even so, he was well liked in the clubhouse and had some great performances in the playoffs. The Red Sox would have loved to have him back.
Still, you can’t blame Rodriguez for taking the big long-term deal, especially after the career-threatening health scare he went through last year.
Now it’s on the Red Sox to chart a path forward without him.
Rodriguez’s departure leaves a void in the starting rotation, one Boston would be smart to address. The team could turn to talented up and comers Tanner Houck and Garrett Whitlock and hope they are both ready to make the leap, but the better path would be to sign a veteran in free agency and let Houck and Whitlock compete for the final spot in spring training.
The safest option would be an established starter of roughly Rodriguez’s age and caliber. Marcus Stroman, who is 30, posted a 3.02 ERA for the Mets this year and has a 3.63 career ERA in seven big league seasons, would seem an ideal option. Robbie Ray, who is 31 and among the favorites to win this year’s AL Cy Young Award, would be a similar (and likely more expensive) possibility as well.
If the team is willing to gamble, there is also future Hall of Famer Justin Verlander, who won the 2019 AL Cy Young Award but has pitched just six innings in two seasons since due to Tommy John surgery. He’ll be 39 come spring training, so it’s anyone’s guess what he’ll look like when he gets back on the mound, but if he is anywhere near the pitcher he once was he’d give the rotation a big lift.
Of course, if the Red Sox really wanted to make a splash, they could always try to sign Max Scherzer, who remains one of the best pitchers in baseball even at age 37. That might be a long shot but there’s no denying the impact he could have paired with Nathan Eovaldi and Chris Sale atop Boston’s rotation.
No matter what Boston does next, losing Rodriguez doesn’t have to be a major setback. The team is well positioned to contend in 2022 with or without him and if Chaim Bloom makes the right moves the team could wind up in even better shape than before.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @MacCerullo.